Terry Rugeley’s “The Brief, Glorious History of the Yucatecan Republic”

Rugeley’s article on the Yucatecan Republic outlines the history of the movement itself and compares it with the American Confederacy. He explains that the conflict began in the 1830s after proponents of centralism revoked the constitution of 1823 and replaced it with the Siete Leyes system in which a chief executive made decisions supported by the military, the clergy, and wealthy landowners. At the same time, these men conscripted men from regional battalions to fight Anglo settlers who had recently formed Texas from Mexican territory.

This conscription led to an unsuccessful rebellion proposed by the merchant Santiago Iman y Villafana. His second attempt included removing church taxes from Maya peasants, and this revolt was successful. Opportunistic gentry pushed for independence and proclaimed it on May 16, 1841. Mexico’s apparent advantages in terms of wealth, manpower, and the Mayan desire for liberation were less effective than they believed, and they were forced to concede to Yucatecan demands for independence.

After independence the major splits in the Yucatan became apparent. They faced a downward spiral due to lack of resources and ethnic conflict. It is unclear exactly how their Caste War began due to the destruction of documents during the conflict, but the author believes that it stemmed from conflicts between Maya and Hispanic smugglers. The Maya resented increases in Hispanic violence and political power, and this lead to ethnic conflict which spread from elites to the most impoverished.

At the end of the five year war, the Yucatan peninsula reunified with Mexico. This time there were no terms, as the region was virtually destroyed. At the same time, Mexico was unable to establish punitive measures, as other regions of the country were still in open rebellion. The Yucatan’s political power was subsequently diminished by the division of Campeche in 1857 and Quintana Roo between 1898 and 1901.

In comparing the Confederacy to the Yucatan secession, Rugeley notes three major differences: Yucatan’s literacy rate was much lower and therefore lacked literary pieces to unite public opinion for secession, it had more division in terms of class and ideology, and their armies depended much more on the fighting power of the ethnic underclass. Clearly, however, both ended in defeat.

Rugeley’s analysis brings to mind Anderson’s piece on secession. Would he consider the Yucatecans an ethnic group, considering the fact that their movement was brought down largely by ethnic violence within their borders? Ideology and opportunism seem to be larger factors than ethnicity in the initial division from Mexico.

At one point, Rugeley calls the Yucatecan Republic “the longest-lived (one hesitates to use the word “successful”) secessionist movement in the history of Mexico.” (224) Yet in the same piece he discusses the separation of Texas from Mexico and the government’s attempts to put it down. I question why he does not consider Texas a secessionist movement in these terms. His discussion of the Yucatan Republic is fascinating, but I find myself wanting to know more about Texans as a separatist group.



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